Levar Burton kickstarts Reading Rainbow Web app [Update: campaign closes above $5 million]

levar burton kickstarts reading rainbow web app raises 1 million half day bring back for every child  everywhere
Building off the success of the Reading Rainbow iPad application that launched two years ago, Levar Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign in late May to bring the application to the Web as well as offer classrooms subscription-based supplemental learning tools that include interactive books and video field trips. The campaign took off like one of the original show’s imaginary rockets, surpassing the $1 million funding goal on the first day, and closing on July 2nd at over $5.4 million.

Updated by Ryan Waniata 7/03/2014: This post has been updated to reflect the total amount raised at the end of Burton’s successful Kickstarter campaign

By the numbers, the campaign raised $5,408,916, according to Forbes, as well as pulling in 105,857 backers which is a record number of donors. The number also makes the campaign the 5th highest, behind the Pebble, Ouya, Neil Young’s Pono, and the Veronica Mars movie. In addition, Seth McFarlane matched every dollar from $4 million up to the $5 million line, for a total of over $6.4 million raised.

Speaking about the importance of Reading Rainbow, Burton said “I believe that every child has a right, and a need, to be literate. We have a responsibility to prepare our children…and right now, the numbers show that we, as a society, are failing in that responsibility. Right now, 1 out of every 4 children in America will grow up illiterate…Now, I am hoping you will join me on my mission: to bring Reading Rainbow back for every child, everywhere.” When the program was on television between 1983 and 2006, Reading Rainbow won 26 Emmys as well as a Peabody award.

According to the project details, the funds will be used to build a Web version of the Reading Rainbow application that can be accessed on any desktop or laptop computer, as well as a variety of other new platforms, including Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, Playstation, and Android devices. A launch date for the new Web application is slated for May, though when it will arrive on other applications has not yet been disclosed.

In addition, a specialized version of the application will be created for the classroom with tools for teachers to use. While this version will be provided to schools on a premium subscription basis, a large portion of the funds will be used to subsidize the cost of the application for at least 7,500 needy schools around the country for a year with the first $5 million, according to the Forbes report. The extra $1.4 million are thought to add thousands more classrooms to the list.

In order to encourage more backers to contribute to the campaign, Burton offered up his time for video messages, custom voicemails, video chats, group picnics and private dinners as well as backing levels related to his time spent playing Geordi La Forge on the popular television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Interestingly, the more expensive backing levels offered the opportunity to purchase a year-long subscription for a classroom or even an entire school.

Of course, Burton also mentioned that children have transitioned from watching educational programming on television to spending more time using educational applications on tablets like the iPad. According to Burton, kids are reading approximately 139,000 books per week using the iPad application. Speaking about the production value of the application, Burton said “I’m really proud of the way we’ve translated the television show into a tablet app for kids, The nature of the show really lends itself ideally to the digital realm.”

This type of Kickstarter campaign is less about providing a specific product to a backer and more about supporting an expansion of the application to reach more children around the world. It’s likely that many of the project backers were young adults that grew up with the programming during the late eighties and the 1990’s. After the project hit the $1 million goal, Burton tweeted “#grateful” to his Twitter followers. He also thanked popular Twitter user and former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Wil Wheaton for his financial support in adopting a classroom.

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